RCD Magazine (03/1993), If I Knew Then...
Back together for the Bill Clinton inauguration, Fleetwood Mac have had more than their share of ups and downs. Christine McVie casts her mind back over 25 years and at least as many million-selling albums, and tells Chas de Whalley that some of the rumours were true.
If I Knew Then...
‘I’ve been in Fleetwood Mac for very nearly 23 years. So I guess in that time there must have been a few things that I wish I’d done differently. But not very many. And to be honest I don’t know how I could have done them better. I suppose I’d have probably rethought some of the silliness. And not taken quite so many drugs. But looking back on it, I had a good time doing them as well so I’m not sure I’d change any of that either.
‘And you have to remember that is was extremely hip and fashionable to be doing coke in California in the the late Seventies and the early Eighties. Everybody was doing it although nobody admitted it at the time. I’m certainly not recommending it but I’m sure it used to be much better stuff than you get nowadays. There’s that school of thought, isn’t there, that the better quality the drugs and the cleaner they are then the less harm they do to you? I don’t know whether that’s true but I seem to have survived relatively unscathed. And I’ve learned that I actually enjoy myself a lot more when I’m straight. All I take now is paracetamol!
‘But all the bands-well both the bands-I’ve ever been in have always a little wild. I was in Chicken Shack with Stan Webb and Andy Sylvester for five years before I joined the Mac. We were notorious for the number of Special Brew lagers we could drink, and the crazy things Stan used to do. His favourite trick was to wander out into the audience playing a guitar solo on the end of a two hundred foot lead! It was a great crowd-pleaser but, every once in a while, the lead would come unplugged and vanish in the darkness , so Stan would be standing at the other end of the hall with no sound coming out and he’d rush back to the stage in panic.
‘I left Chicken Shack soon after I'd Rather Go Blind. My manager at the time had these fond visions of resurrecting me as a solo artist, but the real reason I split was because I’d married John McVie, and I wanted to spend more time with him. Up until then I’d been Christine Perfect. I used to joke about it and say “I was perfect until I met John!” What a terrible gag that was. We’ve been divorced for 15 years!
‘I don’t know whether it was inevitable that should join John in Fleetwood Mac after Peter Green left or whether I was just married to the right man at the right time! But I joined them in 1970 and, looking back on it, I think it’s fair to say the band drifted for very nearly five years. The Blues Boom was definitely on its way out by then and anyway the original Mac line-up of John and Mick, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan had already gone well beyond the blues with things like Oh Well and The Green Manalishi. So there was no going back that way.
‘It didn’t help that we couldn’t keep a stable band together for more than 18 months. Or complete a US tour without breaking up. First of all, Jeremy literally disappeared for days in Los Angeles in 1971 and when he finally returned he announced he was joining a religious sect called The Children Of God. So we quickly recruited a Californian guitarist Bob Welch who turned out to be a pretty good songwriter too. Then Danny developed a serious drink problem, so he had to go. We replaced him with Bob Weston but Bob ran off with Mick’s then wife in the middle of another tour, which caused huge emotional problems. Mick was distraught. Once again we had to cancel all the rest of the dates and go home.
‘We recorded a string of albums like Future Games, Bare Trees and Penguin which all did OK in America, but in hindsight I’m not surprised that there was no real sense of direction. There were just so many different influences in the band. John and Mick were still into the blues, I was writing my usual lightweight romantic ditties while Bob Welch was coming up with stuff that was very West Coast, very Wes Montgomery and jazzy. I think the only really good album we did in that period was Mystery To Me, which came out in 1973.
‘It was about that time that we finally decided to move the band to America permanently too. Ironically that coincided with Bob Welch growing apart from the rest of us. We recorded another album with him in 1974 called Heroes Are Hard To Find, but all the while he was planning a solo career without telling the rest of us.
‘We first heard about Stevie and Lindsey by accident. Early in 1975 Mick was looking around LA for a studio to record the next album and stumbled across a place in the valley called Sound City Studios. The house engineer was a guy called Keith Olsen, who ended up producing us and a whole load of other people too. To show off the studio’s capability, Keith played some tracks from an album he’d just recorded there with a band on Polydor called Buckingham Nicks.
‘Mick made a mental note that there was a great guitarist on the tape. So when Bob finally announced he was going to leave, Mick called to find out what the guy Buckingham was doing. “Nothing” said Keith. “They’re doing nothing.” And explained that Buckingham Nicks were actually a duo-boyfriend and girlfriend. Which took us aback a little bit initially, because we didn’t really want to split them up, you know? But we asked them both out for some Mexican food and we all got on really well. So we thought we’d give it a try. We didn’t really audition them. We just started rehearsing together. The first song we played was Say You Love Me. I started singing the chorus and those two came in from nowhere with the most amazing harmonies. It was one of those moments you remember forever. Everybody looked at each other and said “Whoa Ho! What Is This?” Ironically, for years Stevie still believed that the only reason we asked her to join in the first place was to make sure we got Lindsey! But the truth is that any doubts we might have had about her vanished the moment she started singing.
‘We knew we had something really special when we finished the Fleetwood Mac album. Which is why we insisted that we should go out and tour it immediately. We needed to get a public reaction. Warner Brothers weren’t all that keen but they agreed in the end. We gigged and gigged all over America for about six months solid. Initially not very many people turned up. We’d be booked into 10,000 seater arenas and there’d be maybe 1,500 to 2,000 if we were lucky. But they all went away raving. And told their friends. It was a real word of mouth thing. Slowly but surely the album began to sell. It seemed to spend forever hovering around in the bottom of the charts. I think it had been out almost a full year before it got to Number One. After that, of course, everybody was primed and ready for Rumours, which was Number One in the US for almost a whole year in 1977.
‘That’s when the media started going crazy about us. All that Peyton Place On The Road, Rock ’n’ Roll Soap Opera stuff wasn’t a hype. It really did happen. We were under a lot of pressure, we were constantly on tour and, one way or another, we were all out of our heads most of the time. My marriage to John began to fall apart as did Lindsey and Stevie’s relationship. The press pounced upon it and I suppse we played it up a bit in the photo sessions we did for the Rumours sleeve. I resented the intrusion at times. It came as a bit of a shock that the general public recognized us as individuals and wanted to know everything about us. It was still a time when nobody really knew individual band members’ names unless it was The Beatles or the Stones. But I think we accepted it as part of the price we had to pay for success.
‘I got classified as the Mother Earth figure of the band. Stevie became the Ethereal One, Mick the Kooky One, John the Drunk One and so on. I’ve always had my feet quite firmly planted in the ground. So even though I went off the rails a couple of times I was able to handle it better than some of the other members of the band who got well hung up trying to live out the personas that had been projected around them, you know? They were very tense days. And not ones I think I’d care to experience again.
‘I think Lindsey suffered more than most of us. He’d always been a little wacky but it really began to manifest itself when we made the next album, Tusk. He’s always been a superb arranger. Initially he developed all those open string drones and dissonance things to disguise the simplicity of some of Stevie’s songs. If you heard the way Stevie played something like Dreams by herself on a piano you’d think there was virtually nothing there. But Lindsey has this wonderful ability to create the illusion that there was much more in a song musically than it actually contains.
‘It was Lindsey who suggested we make Tusk a double album. I guess Warner Brothers wanted Rumours 2 but what they got was a bizarre collection of songs which they never really knew what to do with. A lot of them were just Lindsey by himself experimented with sound in his home studio. He was using his voice as an instrument, putting whole tracks together back to front and so on. Some of it was really crazy. But if we hadn’t let him do that he would have left the band there and then.
‘We collaborated more on Tango than on any of the other albums, I think. Which might sound a bit odd when you remember the rumours going round the industry at the time that we were only talking to each other through lawyers and so on. In fact it was all very amicable. Basically what happened was that I was asked to record a version of Elvis Presley’s Can't Help Falling In Love for a Blake Edwards movie. Mick and John agreed to play on it and then I phoned up Lindsey and asked whether he and his engineer, Richard Dashut, would be up for producing it. It was the first time for nearly five years that we’d all been in a working environment together. Since the Mirage album came out in 1982. In fact, we had such a good time in the studio and realized that we still had something to give each other in musical terms after all. But nobody was surprised when Lindsey finally said that he wanted to leave. Tango was like his swansong really.
‘In many ways he defined what people now recognise as Fleetwood Mac’s sound. And which was missing from our last album Behind The Mask. Not that I’m criticizing the guys we got in to replace him-Rick Vito and Billy Burnette. They’re both fine musicians. But I do regret that Lindsey’s gone. There was a creative chemistry there which, when it was right, was absolutely amazing. Our individual approaches to music were so different, but there was this point where they met that was quite magical. To find that quality with other musicians is very difficult. It’s a once in a lifetime thing.
‘Otherwise my only other regret is a purely selfish one. I wish one of my songs had got to Number One. Stevie did it with Dreams but the best I’ve ever managed is a couple of Number Twos with Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow and Everywhere. That is a small source of disappointment to me. But after all this time, it’s not much to complain about, is it?
Contributed by Mary Anne
1993-03-01 Number of views: